The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

TAB Comes Clean?

By Amy Smith, October 24, 2003, News

After nearly a year of resisting a grand jury investigation into its use of corporate funds to bankroll a political ad campaign, the Texas Association of Business on Monday -- with a little prompting from the U.S. Supreme Court -- turned over subpoenaed records -- with some redactions -- to the district attorney's office.

Citing First Amendment rights, TAB attorney Andy Taylor has fought to protect the identity of those who contributed to the $2 million ad blitz that helped secure a history-making Republican lock on the Legislature. Thus far, District Court Judge Mike Lynch is allowing TAB to conceal the names of individuals and corporate donors in records relating to the group's 2002 election effort. In addition to the release of the group's records, three subpoenaed TAB staffers -- President Bill Hammond, governmental affairs manager Jack Campbell and communications director Cathy DeWitt -- will now cooperate with the investigation.

In a statement, District Attorney Ronnie Earle reiterated remarks made in an earlier courtroom debate: "It has been a crime under Texas law for corporations to contribute money to political campaigns since the days of the robber barons. If we have reached the point where a corporation can secretly buy an election, then democracy is on life support."

TAB's last hope rested with the nation's highest court, which on Monday refused to hear the case. Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said he wasn't surprised by the Supreme Court's rejection of the appeal, but added that much is at stake in the TAB investigation. "While it's difficult to conceive of a legislature more willing than this one to cater to corporate Texas, just imagine a world where corporations can buy their politicians in absolute secrecy."

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